Let's protect what we have

Posted: Monday, December 31, 2007

There have always been differences of opinion and divisions among Alaskans concerning how we go about managing ourselves and our resources. These divisions often seem entrenched into camps at the far extremes of agreement. In fact, it seems our society conditions us to be us and them, conditioned as adversaries, right or left, win or lose, red, blue or green, with little tolerance or opportunity for common ground.

Our common ground is Alaska. I plead with Alaskans to stop for a moment and step aside from our camps, to open our minds to the best interest of each other and our collective environment. Here is my concern: our long-running debate over development versus environmentalism and the proposed Pebble Mine across Cook Inlet.

In 2006, Canadian mining company Northern Dynasty submitted permit applications to the DNR to build North America's largest open pit mine, 20 miles from Alaska's largest body of fresh water, Lake Iliamna, at the tributary spawning streams of the world's largest salmon runs to Bristol Bay. Here is what's proposed: A 2-mile diameter open pit mine, 1,500 feet deep, drawing 70 million gallons of water per day from the upper Talarik watershed, three times as much water as Anchorage uses per day, and building a series of earthen dams, the largest in the world. These dams will hold back huge lakes of toxic mining waste, in addition to 10 square miles of tundra converted to tailing storage.

North America's largest gold mine sounds like a lot of money with jobs. These things seem obvious; my concern is perhaps what is not so obvious. Did you know the EPA lists hard rock mining as the largest source of pollution in America? Our Red Dog mine is America's number one polluter. Recent changes to state laws once prohibiting dumping pollutants into salmon spawning streams will now allow mines like Pebble to dump toxic waste. Our last governor removed the Habitat Division from Fish and Game, whose mandate was to protect habitat, to DNR, the state's mine permitting agency.

Currently, the heads of DEC and DNR have ties to large mine industries. DNR has never turned down a permit for large scale mines in Alaska.

I'm a 35-year resident of Alaska, fortunate to have spent most of my youth and adult life outdoors, sport and commercial fishing, hunting and guiding around the state. Now I find myself standing at store fronts circulating petitions for signatures to get the Clean Water Initiative on the ballot, which simply states that toxic pollutants like cyanide cannot be dumped into spawning streams or ground water used for drinking, mandating responsible development by Alaska vote. Let's open up a statewide discussion. Please sign the Clean Water Initiative. Please, Alaskans, let's reach some common ground and protect what we are so fortunate to have.

Steve M. Schoonmaker


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